Readings — From the December 2012 issue

Collateral Damage

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From more than 8,000 letters to executives and directors of banks, posted last fall on the website Occupy the Boardroom and emailed to the addressees. A selection of 150 letters, The Trouble Is the Banks: Letters to Wall Street, was published in October by n+1 Books.

to: charles h. noski, bank of america

Hi Charles,

My name is Matt. You don’t know me, but I’m a Bank of America customer. A few years ago my Countrywide mortgage was bought by Bank of America, and we’ve been together ever since. Currently, my home is underwater by about $150,000. I’m working two jobs to keep my home, but over the past two years I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to do a loan modification. Three times I’ve tried to do that.

I won’t go into all the details, but the last time I was turned down because I had put down my home phone number instead of my cell phone number. Since I’m never home, due to working sixty-five hours a week, I didn’t get the messages that were left on my home answering machine.

In 2009, Bank of America paid $0 in federal income tax. It was pretty much the same for 2010, too, as I understand it. But you got billions from taxpayers in the bailout. Does that make any sense to you, Charles? The bailout paid you and others at Bank of America bonuses and your salary—but I’m denied a break because I put down the wrong phone number on the application. Perhaps someone there can explain this to me, because I just don’t get it.

to: lloyd h. dean, wells fargo

Dear Lloyd,

In 2007, I became the first person in my immediate family to get a degree, at age thirty-eight. I graduated owing more than $100,000 in private student loans. Payments were more than $1,100 per month. My seventy-four-year-old retired father is the cosigner for most of these loans, but in September 2008, my dad lost $70,000 of his pension with the banks’ collapse.

In December 2009, after just one year in the workforce, I was laid off. For most of 2010, I wasn’t able to find steady employment. In January 2011, I ran out of deferment with my private student loans. The banks began chasing my father as the cosigner. They have wrecked his credit and called in his home-equity loan, on which he never missed any payments.

In June 2011, my father saw a lawyer to try to get the payments reduced to something proportional to his fixed income. In October 2011, he got word that the lawyer had failed to get the payments reduced enough. My dad wrote me a letter saying he had to sell his life insurance and rearrange his will to protect my sister and my stepmom.

The letter arrived last Saturday.

He had a stroke on Sunday.

Now Wells Fargo is harassing him for payment of another student loan.

to: lloyd c. blankfein, goldman sachs

Dear Lloyd (may I call you Lloyd?),

I know you and Goldman have gotten a lot of heat lately, and I assumed you were some privileged, out-of-touch, always-been-rich person who just didn’t get how tough it is to be a working-class stiff in a society that no longer manufactures anything. But Lloyd, you worked selling hot dogs and Cracker Jacks at Yankee Stadium! You went through the N.Y.C. public-school system! Your parents were the same type of working stiffs who are losing their homes, jobs, and savings thanks to the policies of our bought-out government. How do you sleep at night?

to: julie m. white, wells fargo

Hi Julie,

I was just wondering why, after I owned my home for seven years and took care of it even after I was unfortunately laid off from my company downsizing, you and Wells Fargo (Wachovia) have not given it the same love and appreciation I always did. You would think that for how aggressive you were in taking it from me, you would have given it the same love and care that I always have.

Last time I drove by, the lawn really needed cutting. The fence is looking really bad, and there are tree branches all over the roof. I was in the process of trying to pay some amount to show my commitment to keeping my home, but your lawyer fees (something like $3,000 for being ninety days late) made that completely impossible.

Besides looking for work, I was volunteering on the board of an animal rescue, trying to place animals left in back yards by other people who lost their homes. I had to quit, since I had nowhere to live myself. Because you cannot give me my house back, nor do I expect you to, I would hope that you, Wells Fargo (Wachovia), could at least donate to a nonprofit animal rescue and help the animals that I no longer can. They have lost their homes too.

to: michael j. heid, wells fargo

Dear Mr. Banker,

I am a college graduate. I have taken a job as a waiter. I have been paying my student loans for about seven years. I owed about $28,000. I have been paying $344 a month for seven years. Which means I have paid $28,896. Give or take. You know what my balance is? $42,841. This is what I think is messed up.

to: william s. thompson jr., citigroup

Hi Mr. Thompson!

My name’s Thompson, too—who knows, maybe we’re related in some distant way. Any relatives in North Carolina?

I know you’re busy making poor decisions with people’s life savings, so I’ll keep this short and simple. Five years ago I was a forty-nine-year-old single mom who owned her own home (I mean owned—paid off) and had a $175,000 IRA with Citi. Not too shabby. Today, I’m a fifty-four-year-old single mom who lost her home, and lost her IRA in the process of trying to keep it.

I got laid off two and a half years ago, and fortunately have found another job with a foreign outsourced company making a fraction of what I used to make, no pension, and lousy benefits. I not only cannot afford to save, but I have had to eliminate the simple things I used to give my child, such as dance classes—her forte and her passion. Extraordinarily sad.

But hey, at least we’re eating. Two years ago, I ate dinner only every other night. All I could afford. Now I look forward to literally another twenty-five years of full-time employment. I just hope my health holds out.

Enjoy your lovely home and your next vacation to the Seychelles. Please remember me when you’re there and send a postcard.

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